Recently a friend asked me if I were a “New Age” person. I was a bit taken back. I’ve since been thinking about what this term really means. We all tend to use labels. We easily dismiss or accept people’s views with labels. If something is said against our beliefs, or challenges our thinking, we tend to dismiss it and whoever said it with labels. This way we never really have to think about it. I once mentioned an idea in the company of some people and an traditional “authority figure” replied, “Oh, he (me) is ‘proglectic’” or some such label. I didn’t even want to ask what it meant. And so we dismiss people and ideas; “radical, liberal, conservative, freak, new age, crazy, idiotic, anti-Christ.” Indeed, religious people might even lead the world in labeling, and have often sought violent means to rid the world of people they labeled as “pagan”.
People who didn’t measure up to traditional church ideas and practices of “old Europe” were called “pagan” and killed in massive genocide sweeps. Fr. de Mello once said such heroes as St. Francis Xavier would today be labeled “terrorists.” In touring the ocean side here in Venice, Florida, we came upon a sign giving praise and honor to a General Casey. He had an island Key named after him, for bravely “removing Seminoles” from the area so that Europeans settlers, Christians, could take over the land. Earlier in this trip, my wife visited Fort de Sota established in the early 1500’s by Spanish conqueror Hernando de Sota, who brutally removed thousands of natives from the southeastern part of this “new world.”
So what about the label “new age”? It’s a fairly recent label to many but actually it’s pretty old. In modern times, it was first used in 1809 by English writer William Blake to describe one of Milton’s poems. Blake called it “new age.” In those times, many historical changes occurred for shaking and molding the world into a new age. The American revolution had recently occurred and was still in its formative stages. Its influence had inspired the bloody French Revolution in 1789, inspiring such inventions at the guillotine to slaughter hundreds of people with royal blood. New and radical thinking and writings exploded over the world creating new democracies and republics, with social revolutions later creating governments we label “socialist” and “communist.”
Indeed, the American Revolution spawned a tremendous creation of a new age thinking and development of nations in the world. So many of our areas and states bear the adjective “new” to describe this new thinking and form of government that engulfed the world. Some historians attribute the label “new age” to any movement or person’s inspiration which leads to a challenge of centralized authorities with an emphasis on empowering people to reach higher in their own potentials.
In ancient times, certain leaders and teachers created “new ages.” When writing became “invented” in the 5th Century B.C.E., it was called an ‘”axial” period. It launched centuries of writers, creating historical documents as the Bible, the Tao te Ching, the Bhaghavad Gita, and others. These were the centuries in which the great Buddha became known, creating a revolutionary new reform movement in ancient Hinduism. When asked once if he were a god sent from the heavens, he answered “No, I have awakened!” which is the meaning of the word “Buddha.” When Jesus came, the Bible illustrates another significant change in history, the man who is said to have taught “awaking to the whole new kingdom within.” Even the calendar changed! The Bible has him teaching people to be “born again” and to awaken to the eternal presence within. The Bible also says that whoever awakens to this Presence finds everything new with the past gone. Truly these were “new age” leaders.
A few years ago, the Presbytery of WNY had an Executive who once told us ministers, “Everything you were taught in Seminaries is no longer relevant for today!” When a picture later appeared on the front page of the Buffalo News showing emptying churches, he commented, “We still think people will come to listen to classical organ music.” No wonder he was later fired! Soon I learned such “new age” concepts as “post-modern Christianity” and the “post Christian times” in which we were living. I began to ponder these terms and ideas and found myself moving beyond the earlier ideas of “knowing the truth.” Today this sense of a new world continues.
We live now in the New Age of communications, connecting people like you and me with each other in ways inconceivable a few decades ago. Some have defined “new age” as the sense of decentralization, the removal of power from monarchies and royalty to “commoners” like you and me. It’s the “revolution” of America, throughout all of Europe, and a yearning in so many parts of the world. It’s the spirit of the present day “tea parties” which seem to awaken many today. It was the excitement surrounding our present President, sweeping the nation’s first African American person into office living and working in a house and capital built by slaves.
So what is “New Age?” It is anything that awakens us to a deeper realization of “truth”. Yes, many of these new revelations can imprison our minds further, but such is the risk of exploration and awaking. But “New Age” is much more than the aligning of planets, that “harmonic convergence” of 1987. (This was the year I also traveled to India!) It means to me an open mind, a searching, listening, seeking mind. Of course, we can come to significant conclusions that will change our lives and turn us toward new directions. Any such change can feel threatening to those “centralized, authorized” conclusions we had been taught. The recent book “A Course in Miracles” came to me as a significant book that impacted and altered my thinking. The title could easily be translated, “A Course in Corrected Perception, of New Thinking”. The book came through a voice to a research scientist at Columbia University, a voice calling itself “Jesus.” New Age then means “laying everything on the table, going for broke, keeping no doubts or hidden secrets.” It’s about knowing the truth, a truth that as the Bible says, sets us free.
Am I then “new age?” I hope so. I invite all to join me if such a label means an open, often scary, but courageous journey toward a peace and freedom which passes all previous understanding. Leave or move away from the doubts of darkness, question authority, challenge the guilt and fears laid upon you, and know that your inheritance is truth, and this truth entails great freedom, joy, and peace.